coworker is posting about being “the other woman,” I cried when my coworkers gave me a birthday cake, and more

I’m on vacation. Here are some past letters that I’m making new again, rather than leaving them to wilt in the archives.

1. I dated a coworker, and another coworker is posting about being “the other woman”

I starting dating someone I work with over a year ago. There’s a woman who also works with us from time to time who has shown obvious interest in him. I should point out that she used to work at my location full-time, but has since moved to an on-call position. She texts him frequently and brings him coffee. Despite vocalizing my frustrations to him numerous times, it still seems that they have some sort of relationship. I recently broke it off with him, and her social media behavior before and after my breaking up with him has been questionable. She keeps posting about “being the other woman” and things like that. I don’t want this to affect my work because, relationships aside, I really love what I do. How do I handle the passive aggressive behavior and the fact that I still work with my ex?

Impeccable professionalism. She’s doing the opposite of that with her “other woman” posts. You can stay above any fray by treating her and your ex with perfect professionalism. Be utterly civil and polite. There’s no need to call either of them out on what’s going on and you no longer have reason to be invested in anything either of them might be doing, so just aim to be pleasantly detached. Anyone watching this play out will see you behaving perfectly, and that can be deeply satisfying when there’s drama around an ex.


2. I cried when my coworkers gave me a birthday cake

I had a crying meltdown at work and it was so bad that I had to go home, and I still felt like crying the next day and even now when I think about what happened. I didn’t cry because anything bad happened. I cried because my coworkers and boss got me a birthday cake and a card. You see, I was in the foster care system as a ward from my birth til I turned 18. I lived in 27 different homes and I don’t have a family or anyone who adopted me.

I never had a birthday cake or celebration. No one said happy birthday or sang to me or did anything for it ever. So when it happened, I was just so happy and surprised that I couldn’t help it.

I don’t know what I should say to my coworkers and boss. I am really thankful for them surprising me and doing something for my birthday. Someone told me they do a birthday celebration once a month and that month mine was the only birthday. I don’t want them to think I am upset or unbalanced. I want to have a good relationship with everyone here. They were nice enough to give me a chance when I never worked before and am still working on my GED. How can I explain to them why I had such an emotional reaction without looking stupid? None of them know that I was the first time anyone celebrated my birthday.

Oh my goodness, of course you had an emotional reaction! Anyone who knew what you explained here would understand in a second why you reacted the way you did. (I’m having an emotional reaction.)

Are you willing to share that with them? You certainly don’t have to — you have every right to keep your history private if you prefer to — but if it is something that you were comfortable sharing, I think it would really move people and make them feel really great about having been able to do that for you (and it would make your response make perfect sense).

If you’d rather not, that’s fine too! In that case, you could say something like, “Hey, excuse my emotional reaction to the cake the other day — I was having an oddly emotional day!” Say it breezily, and I doubt anyone will dwell on it.

And happy birthday!


3. Does “I don’t understand why we’re doing X” really mean “I don’t like that we’re doing X?”

Is it commonly known that saying “I don’t understand why we’re doing X” actually means “I don’t *like* that we’re doing X,” or is that just someone being passive aggressive?

Some context: I manage a lot of process improvement, and when we’re rolling out a New Thing to employees, I often hear “I don’t understand why we need New Thing.” I usually assume they are asking for clarification, because they *want* to understand. So I’ll try to be helpful and explain the problem we’re trying to solve, or why we decided to do X instead of Y, and they just repeat “yeah but I don’t *understand* why we’re doing that.” Sometimes I even try to explain again, being careful to be more clear or use better examples or whatever. But then I realize that they don’t really want to *understand*. They just don’t want New Thing to happen at all, but they don’t want to say “I don’t like the way that we’re doing this New Thing.”

It’s happened enough that I have to wonder if the problem is me; I’m a pretty direct person and also not great with subtext, so this might legitimately be one of those subtle social cues that most people understand but that I’ve never been great at picking up on.

Yeah, “I don’t understand why we’re doing X” often does mean “I don’t like that we’re doing X and don’t understand why someone thinks it’s a good idea.”

Not always. Sometimes it genuinely means ““I don’t understand why we’re doing X and would like to — can you explain it to me?” Often you can tell the difference by the tone the person is using, or by the rest of the conversation. (If you explain exactly why you’re doing X and the person is still saying they “yeah, but I don’t understand why,” there’s a decent chance that they mean “that reason doesn’t make up for my dislike of this change.”)

In some cases, you can say, “It sounds like you’re saying you have concerns about the change. Do you want to tell me what your concerns are, and I can make sure we’re trying to account for them in our planning?”

But this is a big thing when you’re working on process improvement; it’s not uncommon to get a lot of push-back. Sometimes that’s based on general dislike of change, but sometimes it’s based on legitimate and important concerns. So in most cases, it’s worth drawing people out about what their concerns are; you may not be able to change things to please them, but sometimes you’ll get crucial perspectives you wouldn’t have otherwise had. Plus, change usually goes down better when people feel they’ve had an opportunity to give feedback and truly been heard.


4. Paging a coworker with his first, middle, and last names

We have a paging system at work that we constantly use to page coworkers to locate them on the floor. I recently paged a coworker by his full name — first, middle and last. I then got in trouble with my manager and was told it was unprofessional. The reason we know his middle name is because he has told us. I was really confused when I was told not to do it and got reprimanded. Can you shed some light on this for me?

I’m guessing your manager assumed you were joking around (since that’s what it sounds like to me), and doesn’t want the paging system used for mirth.


5. People are stealing my pens!

I’m fairly new to my job, and if I’m being honest with myself regarding my situation, one of the lowest in the hierarchy at my workplace. It’s not an ideal position for me, but I’m trying to make the best of it.

One of the things that I’ve found makes my work far more enjoyable is using pens that I like, i.e. nice gel pens (not fountain pens or Mont Blancs or anything crazy). I buy these personally, and have never asked a workplace to supply them for me, it’s just something I invest in for myself. I’m a fairly conscientious person and take good care of my belongings, so it’s worth the expense to have a decent writing instrument handy.

The problem is that I’m not the only person around here who enjoys good pens. I just had two walk off — one my direct supervisor borrowed and never returned, but for diplomatic reasons I was willing to let that one go. But today I saw one around the work ID lanyard of a coworker that definitely was just taken off my desk. (Yes, the pens are distinctive enough that the chance is very remote that he would suddenly have the same one right when mine disappeared). How would you recommend addressing this for the future? Should I invest in the pen equivalent of a locked lunchbox? :)

People are so used to thinking of non-Mont-Blanc-quality pens as communal office property that you’re going to have an uphill battle with this one, but I’d at least try keeping them in your desk rather than on your desk. It’s rarer for people to open someone’s desk and take things out of it.

And if you happen to spot one with someone else, exclaim with the same pleasure you’d use upon spotting your lost dog, “My pen!” And then reclaim it.


{ 181 comments… read them below }

  1. alienor*

    I will confess to having said “I don’t understand why we’re doing X” (although I usually phrase it more like “can you explain the rationale behind X”) when what I mean is that X sounds like someone crapped it out in a meeting with zero thought behind it and now we’re being forced to implement it. But after they explain why, I don’t ask again, even if the answer boils down to “because the Executive Director of Llama Hoof Picking wants it,” which it often does.

    1. Jackalope*

      I really appreciate Alison calling out in her response that sometimes the negative reaction is due to a dislike of change, but in many other cases is due to genuine concerns about how the change will affect things in general. I’ve been in far too many situations (at work or outside of it) where someone tried to be cheerful and happy about a change and got annoyed with me for being suspicious of said change. In many of those situations, if they had listened to my concerns instead of briskly dismissing my feelings as a dislike of change, the implementation could have gone much better and had fewer issues. Change for change’s sake is not a net gain in and of itself.

      1. The Prettiest Curse*

        Often people attempting to implement a change without will announce it in an upbeat, happy way precisely because they know that so many people can completely lose it over changes which are actually fairly minor. So the tone of the announcement reflects the way they think it will be received – the more upbeat they are, the more annoyed they think people will be.

        Much of this results from a vicious cycle of failed change management.
        The people who lose it do so because they feel powerless, that they didn’t have a chance to provide input, feel that the prospect of change hasn’t been communicated properly and that they’re being jerked around. Because the process managers are worried about the reaction to even the potential of change, the potential change is never communicated, the people on the receiving end of the change aren’t consulted and they don’t have a chance to express their concerns and have those concerns (whether valid or completely ridiculous) addressed.

        The process change managers therefore don’t consult people upfront (or top-down management doesn’t want them to consult anyone), so people aren’t aware that change is coming and don’t have time to prepare. When the change is announced, people are blindsided and annoyed that they weren’t consulted. Therefore, they are more likely to over-react, even if the change is minor, because they didn’t have time to mentally prepare. The process managers conclude that people are resistant to change and the people on the receiving end of the change freak out, conclude that they’re being jerked around pointlessly and become ever more resistant to change. Thus concludes the vicious cycle.

        1. London Calling*

          Thank you for succinctly and accurately summing up what happened at ex-job with a new accounting and reporting system. It’s so like what happened that I’m beginning to suspect you were there. Add in project manager and line shouting at people for not being totally on board and venturing to say that they weren’t 100% happy with some of it and DARING to discuss their reservations and I’d be sure you were.

          1. CL*

            Feels like I was there, too. Unfortunately I think it’s not uncommon for projects to forget about adoption concerns.

            Personally, I tend to ask for explanations to make the developer/project manager talk through something and hopefully they find the practical concerns themselves before I have to tell them why something won’t work. For example, tell me why you think it’s ok to restructure the common file structures without asking anyone that actually uses them if it’s ok?

          2. The Prettiest Curse*

            Ha, I try to have as little as possible to do with accounting systems, so I wasn’t there for that one, I’ve just seen similar scenarios play out elsewhere! The only real way out of the vicious cycle is to build trust by consulting people. But that takes time and effort – and can lead to overly lengthy consultation processes and decision paralysis if done incorrectly.

        2. Joielle*

          Yep, this is exactly the cycle we’re in at my workplace and trying to drag us back to a better place is a serious uphill battle. I understand why we’ve gotten here – it takes so LONG to listen to everyone’s complaints early in the process (about things that will be figured out later in the process) that it feels easier to wait until things are worked out before making an announcement. But then, yeah, people haven’t been able to prepare or give input so there’s a kneejerk NOPE reaction to even innocuous changes. And then this experience leads upper management to conclude that it doesn’t make sense to include people in the process because of all the drama. And the cycle continues…

          I’m new to upper management and have concluded that there’s no way out of this that doesn’t involve spending many hours in meetings listening to a lot of drama over tiny changes, because the only way to rebuild trust is to start involving people in decisions much earlier on. Nobody wants to hear it but the only way out is through!

      2. Anon for this one*

        I’m witnessing something similar at the moment so this letter is timely.

        My co-worker and I are both senior individual contributors and subject matter experts in our respective areas. My co-worker has been Spoken To about being ‘negative’ and ‘obstructive’ in relation to the way a certain change project is being approached and its implications.

        Co-worker is right in their concerns though and has been presenting them as “have you thought about…”, “what happens if…” etc (rather than whining about whyyyyyy do we have to do it, I don’t understand, etc) and is being told to zip it as they’re “hindering progress on the project”…

        There will be a hefty dose of ‘I told you so’ at the end of it, as I can already see it’s going off track and the project won’t get delivered. I don’t see that I have any ethical duty to call this out, as co-worker has already made it completely known.

        In this co-worker’s case, and mine in the past where I have had the ‘black hat’ on when I had concerns – they are completely well founded.

        Having said all that though – I think very often “I don’t understand why we have to do this” is unfounded or at least unexplored resistance to change. When I’ve seen this attitude from people it’s generally been from the less senior people who have a less strategic view as they are more focused on their own role, this is what they were taught to do, why is it changing? I come in every day and do my job like this and it’s fine and I don’t understand why these people (typically consultants or could just be management) think they know more about the job I do day in and day out than I do when I’m the one actually doing it. And so on. Actually a lack of strategic/bigger picture awareness is the root of a lot of problems but that’s another subject!

        1. Zephy*

          The strategic/bigger picture awareness thing is why I’m one of these “why do we have to do new thing” employees – I’m well aware that I’m about as far as one can be from the room where it happens when it comes to these kinds of changes, so it’s very much not up to me and I get that, but that also means I can’t see the bigger picture. So, when that overarching goal changes, telling me “mix the purple paint by putting the red paint into the blue paint going forward, not blue into red” feels very much like a middle manager sticking their nose into my process for the sake of feeling like they’re doing something. Which I acknowledge they have a right to do, sure, but if that’s what’s happening then just say so. If red-into-blue rather than blue-into-red actually makes a difference in the final product, if my process is impacting someone else’s, I want to know. I have my process set up in a way that seems most efficient to me, and I have my checks and balances set up based on what I believe are important things to check, but if those are no longer the important things, then I need to refine my process again beyond just changing which paint color I grab first. I need to understand what I’m doing in the broader context of what the company does – I need to know what’s already happened to the widget when it comes to me for painting, and I need to know what will happen to it when I finish painting it and send it on to the next person.

        2. Cmdrshprd*

          I think going along as part of your bigger picture, I think some changes that are generally good for most people/company as a whole might not always be good for specific people/roles. They might create 1 hour of more work for Bob the data entry clerk, but further up the line it saves Mary the accountant (with much more valuable time) 2/3 hours of work. To Bob it seems silly to change a process to give him more work, but overall it saves more time, and money. Even if it was just a 1 for 1, it saves Mary 1 hour and makes 1 extra hour of work for Bob, but that 1 hour for Mary is much more important/valuable than 1 hour of Bob’s time.

        3. Merrie*

          Since I worked as a retail manager at the local level at a giant corporation, we routinely were stuck implementing poorly-explained changes that didn’t work well, created predictable issues, and that we had no input into the implementation or execution of, and then getting dinged on our performance evaluations for not doing enough to drive change. After years of seeing most changes that came across provide very little positive for us and often make our jobs harder, could one blame us for being skeptical about new changes that look like they’re just as bad as the old ones? So glad I don’t work there anymore.

      3. Curmudgeon in California*

        Change for change’s sake is not a net gain in and of itself.


        I have been at so many places where they essentially cargo-cult some new process, practice or software because “everyone is doing it” or “It New! Cool! Hot!”, without even evaluating if it was useful and beneficial to us – IE the cost often outweighed the benefit to the organization, but learning it and implementing it boosted the resume of those involved while just adding change and extra tedium for the rest of us. The arguments were often “It’s new therefore it’s better. It’s better because it’s new. What we use now is Too Old™ You’re just change averse!”

        Because of this I am very, very skeptical of new “this will solve all your problems, make it so you can fire all of your X type workers” solutions that get written up in all of the industry rags.

        The llama industry equivalent would be “Automated llama grooming! It’s the new hotness! Everyone’s doing it! It will let you get rid of 75% of your groomers!” Never mind that it injures llamas and has the remaining groomers overworked and more likely to get kicked, it’s now “industry standard.”

    2. allathian*

      Yes, this. Granted, these are all old letters, but I’d really like to know if LW3 changed anything about their response to this question…

      That said, managing process improvement is not for everyone. Many people can’t deal with the pushback, and when you’re asking (or forcing) people to change, you’re *guaranteed* to get pushback. That’s why getting buy-in is so important, up to a certain point at least. If employees feel that they’ve been heard they’ll usually be less resistant to change than if it’s just forced on them.

      I’m fairly resistant to change. Thankfully I work in an organization where they try to get buy-in from employees whenever significant changes are implemented. This doesn’t mean that they’ll postpone a necessary but generally unwelcome change until everyone’s on board (which will never happen), but at least employees will get an opportunity to air their concerns. But in my organizational culture it’s also perfectly acceptable to say straight out that you don’t like a change, as long as you don’t complain about it all the time once it’s implemented.

      For me at least it’s much easier to accept changes if I understand the rationale behind them, even when they make my job more difficult until I get used to the new way of doing things.

      That said, few things at work make me happier than getting a change I’ve been lobbying for implemented. I’m a senior SME so I’m not in a position to force change on anyone, but process improvements that make my job easier? I’m all for those.

      1. I take tea*

        “For me at least it’s much easier to accept changes if I understand the rationale behind them”

        This so much! Explain changes and give people a chance to give input. And listen to the input, is it just general change resistance, or is there something you haven’t thought of?

        Personally I have much easier to accept change if I can get involved somehow. I sometimes join projects I’m sceptical of, because it makes me feel better towards the change.

        1. JustSomeone*

          “For me at least it’s much easier to accept changes if I understand the rationale behind them”

          Me too! (Three?)

          I’m actually NOT resistant to change. I’m more likely to be the one championing the new process than the one opposing it. But even with my interest in novel approaches, I’m VASTLY more likely to embrace something when I understand the “why” behind it. Just tell me the reason for the change and that will get me 95% of the way there.

        2. Wintermute*

          This is a great point, especially because people see things from the perspective of their own work and may not be aware of the bigger picture.

          They are just seeing the increased workload, sometimes you need to be honest. “Yes, we realize this makes 30 minutes more work for you, but it saves significant time for three other departments” for example. It can also require being a little more bluntly honest about how someone fits into the bigger picture, “yes, this means this task you do multiple times a day takes 15 more minutes and it only saves five minutes on the other end, but the time of senior engineers is more important to the company.”

        3. Curmudgeon in California*

          When I’ve managed to get an explanation, for some value of explanation, it has often come down to “everyone’s doing it because it’s new”. That is baloney of the first order. Often it yields objectively bad results. But I get tagged with being “Change Averse” when I point out the very real problems.

          I’m all for process improvement. But good process improvement involves evaluating, up front, the pros and cons of any change. I have done the “Get buy in, make change to improve process” before. It works, especially if we start gradually and let people see that it works.

          Big changes in my field are all too often top-down cargo cult, and it drives me nuts. Some upper manager hears about a Thing™ and decides we need to do it too, even though we only have 50 systems to use it, not 500, so it actually costs us more effort than it saves. No matter, because it’s the New Thing. Argggh!

          Yes, I’m salty about badly managed change.

      2. Mockingjay*

        Usually the rationale is a real business need to be addressed. Most employees aren’t going to protest too much about problem solving, if they are aware of it and involved in the fix or change.

        Resistance often stems from lack of employee involvement. I’ve seen a lot of shiny new systems put in because TPTB were dazzled by a sales consultant and didn’t bother to get feedback from the actual users as to whether this particular setup will actually function or solve the problem. The people who buy the system aren’t the people who use the system.

        1. Jeebs*

          Strongly agreed. And I’m having flashbacks to when the person in charge of implementing and training us on a new piece of software (replacing our previous system, which, to this day, nobody has explained why it needed to be replaced) had a meltdown mid-training in response to our questions, snapped ‘nobody told me you used X system for [main purpose of X system]!’ and walked out of the room.

          Well…maybe you should have asked us?

          The new software still isn’t really a replacement for the system they took away. People avoid using it at all costs and they had to jerry-rig all kinds of ‘fixes’ to get it to do any of the vital functions. I escaped by moving to a higher-paid position in a different department that doesn’t touch that system at all.

        2. London Calling*

          *Resistance often stems from lack of employee involvement. I’ve seen a lot of shiny new systems put in because TPTB were dazzled by a sales consultant and didn’t bother to get feedback from the actual users as to whether this particular setup will actually function or solve the problem. The people who buy the system aren’t the people who use the system*

          This ALWAYS seems to be the issue. Everyone has input except the people who have to make this work day to day.

          I’m pretty certain ‘dazzled by a sales consultant’ was what happened with our project. Looking at the system we were adopting, whoever sold that to the managers certainly deserved their Christmas bonus. Maybe I’m being unduly cynical, but making a senior exec look good with reporting to head office seemed to be a major consideration, as well.

          1. Artemesia*

            I watched a fancy expensive new phone system be installed in a university where the salesman seemed unaware that demand was high in office in the day and dorms at night — the old system was able to switch capacity/lines to the dorms after office hours; the new system was not so we didn’t have adequate capacity during work hours in office OR in dorms at night. Expensive mistake abandoned after a couple of years.

            1. London Calling*

              I sat in the first day of training and listened to the trainer admit that they spent about five minutes constructing the payables side and ‘weren’t interested in it’ – and it certainly showed when we came to use the system and go live. Given that we were in a finance dept and payables is a big part of the operational side, it didn’t encourage any feelings of optimism – as well as demonstrating what priority management gave to my job.

      3. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        Awkward when the true answer is “to inflate the share price” or “to make it harder for employees to leave” or “so we can justify paying people less” though.

      4. LtBarclay*

        Agreed! And sometimes the rationale is “because someone said so” and I can accept that too. We had a major system replaced several years ago. NOBODY likes the new system so I could never figure out why we switched. Turns out our major customers demanded it. Well, that I can understand, we all gotta live with the bad new system then.

        But also if something goes wrong with the implementation or new errors pop up as part of the new process, knowing the why can help me figure out how to resolve it.

    3. John Smith*

      I get this a lot from my boss. “We’re” doing X to solve Y”.
      Me”but, X has nothing to do with Y, X affects Z process, is that what you mean?”
      Boss:” no, I said Y. I’ve warned you before about your argumentative attitude”
      Me:”I’m not arguing, I’m just pointing out that X has no influence on Y”
      Boss:”we’re doing X. Please have it done by the end of the month”

      So off we go, doing X which has bugger all to do with Y, then Z changes so Boss comes back and says we need to sort out Z to fix Y.

      Repeat the above discussion ad infinitum. Nothing ever gets achieved ans its always everyone elses fault except the boss.

      If people do ask this question, follow Alisons advice and make sure you get feedback and listen to it.

      1. EvilQueenRegina*

        That sounds a bit like my ex-boss “Umbridge”:

        Umbridge: “We’re doing X.”
        Me: “The problem with X is that it might cause confusion with Y, if we tried Z instead that would solve that.”
        Umbridge: “NO. We’re doing X.”
        Confusion ensues due to aforementioned Y problem.
        Umbridge: “Um, we’re going to start doing Z….”

    4. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      It’s so often just whining about a decision the person doesn’t like that I don’t hear anything else any more.

    5. Gray Lady*

      Yes, if I’m any indication beyond myself, sometimes people are disliking the change and find it hard to understand because it doesn’t seem like a good one, but are *also* open to hearing a good explanation that will make sense of it. Or even, as you suggest, even if not convinced, at least able to accept it after having been given the courtesy of an explanation. It’s easier to accept things if they don’t seem random or done without any thought whatsoever.

    6. It's true*

      It took me years to understand that “I don’t understand” is often some passive way of saying “I don’t like.”

      It’s really annoying to be on the other end of that misunderstanding too. I’ll be saying “I don’t understand, can you explain it?” And being reacted to like I’m having a crisis as if I’m resistant to change wondering if the person implementing it doesn’t understand either.

    7. Wendy Darling*

      If I’m bringing up that I don’t understand why we’re doing something it’s because I do not currently see why we would WANT to. I am, however, open to being convinced. So I’m not necessarily mad about it, I’m just hoping there’s excellent reasoning and someone will share it with me.

      1. excel jockey*

        This. Just because I have initial reservations doesn’t mean I’m assuming it’s a bad plan. I just want to know how the things I’m worried about will be mitigated and what we’ll get from the new system to make the pain worth it.

      2. Curmudgeon in California*


        If I ask why we’re doing X change, it’s because I can’t see the benefit, and I’m hoping someone has a clear rational and has actually done a cost/benefit analysis. So many times they don’t, and resort to really stupid arguments like “It’s good because it’s New”, “Y and Z companies do it, therefore it’s industry standard”, or even “Exec went to a sales presentation and thought is was cool.” Usually those changes end up costing a lot of money, time, and unhappy workers that have to use the junk.

        What are good reasons for changes? “X regulation requires that we do Y, and new process Z is how we comply.”, “We have X problem that the old process wasn’t addressing, so we need to add Y and change Z in order to fix it.”, or even “X software is end-of-life and is no longer supported at all, so we are moving to Y and Z which are supported and should get us what we need that X used to do. Yes, the switch will involve extra work, but we have no choice because X keeps breaking and is unsupported.”

        I like working solutions to real problems, and I will champion changes that do that. But if it only solves a vacancy on a person’s resume and is a poor fit for the organization? I will push back, a lot.

    8. jess*

      Lots of great replies in this thread! Adding my thoughts because my whole job is about creating, maintaining, and updating processes, so “I don’t understand why we’re doing X” or some variation thereof is something I run into a lot!

      When replying to this type of question, I assume best intent and that while they may have some reservations, they are genuinely looking to understand. After explaining what problem the change is trying to address and how we think this solution meets that need, I will ask them if they had any *specific* questions or concerns that my response didn’t cover.

      If they reply back with additional concerns, I let their level of specify determine my level of engagement. If their reply boils down to “well I don’t like it” and little else, there’s probably not a lot I can do about that because it doesn’t seem *they* know why the don’t like it. So I don’t put a ton of effort into assuaging them, I just thank them for their input and let them know that we’ll have an eye toward improving the process once we’ve seen in action a bit.

      If they have specific concerns, that is actually really useful for me and my team! And then I’m happy to get into the weeds with them about how their concerns are addressed in the solution, what trade offs we had to accept when making the best choice for the company at large, and/or how we can use their feedback to iterate on the solution and make changes that will address their concerns.

  2. Serenity*

    I know this isn’t a new letter, but OP 2, I hope many people have celebrated your birthday with you since that first time. And let me add in… happy birthday!

    1. Chauncy Gardener*

      That was such a touching letter. I’m so glad Alison re-ran it.
      I hope you’ve had so many more birthday celebrations, OP!!

    2. Artemesia*

      Me too. I was a foster parents and cannot imagine foster parents — especially so many of them– not celebrating every kid’s birthday. What a run of bad luck to get only awful people in your life while growing up.

    3. The Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon*

      Yes! OP2, if you happen to read this site, I wish you only recognized and joyful birthdays with those you love for the rest of your life. Happy birthday!

    1. EPLawyer*

      If someone’s social media is bothering you — stop following them/mute them. You are not REQUIRED to read someone’s upsetting social media. Life is short, why waste time on reading things that upset you from people you don’t care about?

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I am one of 20ish people who were poached from my old job (of almost 7 years) to my current job (coming up on ten years). Suffice it to say, at one point, I was connected to A LOT of my coworkers on social media. Over the years, I gradually shed connections to almost all of them.

      My come-to-Jesus moment was when I posted “happy birthday, wanted to tell you in person, but work got in the way” to coworker A, came home, opened my Facebook over dinner, and saw a FB post from coworker B who sat behind me and had a full view of my cubicle at work – something about the laziest coworker complaining about how much they work. I knew it was directed at me because it couldn’t have been about anyone else at work – anyone else he interacted with on the daily was his friend, his family member, a manager, or a combination of the above. He was friends (both personal and FB friends) with a lot of the managers and I was worried that seeing his post would affect their perception of me as their employee. I was paying my son’s college bills at the time, had no savings outside of the 401K, one month’s operational expenses’ amount in my checking, and could not afford to lose my job! Blocked him (which made him stop talking to me, so that was pretty disruptive workwise…) and had a long discussion with myself about why I was FB friends with so many work people.

  3. Waving not Drowning*

    Fellow pen lover here – I now use gel purple pens (I have a hidden stash), and they are distinctive enough that I can track them down when they go wanders.

    Post COVID, people are a lot more aware of borrowing pens, so its not as big a deal as it used to be.

    Added bonus, because its not a blue or black pen, hubby hasn’t been stealing them from my home office stash either.

    1. LG*

      Another pen lover – mine were also distinctive but regularly disappeared. I then labelled them all with my name, and would still find them on other people’s desks! When I would point out that they were my pens, people would deny having taken them from my desk and would blame “somebody else” for leaving them on their desk. I never did find a good solution, and just accepted that I would lose a certain percentage of them.

      1. SarahKay*

        I has the same problem, but I found labelling them with my name and then, upon seeing them lurking on someone else’s desk, swooping down on them and saying “Oh, wonderful, you’ve found my pen, thank you so much” in a happy voice would at least get me the pen back.
        It didn’t necessarily stop them wandering off again, but it bypassed all the “I didn’t take your pen, someone must have left it there” stuff, and definitely significantly reduced pen losses.
        (Incidentally, for everyone who has lost a pen to colleagues, search for “Would I Lie To You – David Mitchell’s pens” on YouTube and be grateful your colleagues aren’t Lee Mack!)

        1. Princesss Sparklepony*

          Definitely label the pens. It makes people think twice and when they are taken you have a nice label that says it’s yours.

          When I worked retail, I had to do that with box cutters. Once I labeled them with my name and department they stopped wandering.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I use highly distinctive pens (fountain pens, biros are too stressful for my hands) and the one that’s lasted the longest is a glittering turquoise. Because, like your example, I can easily spot it!

      Also, people rarely use fountain pens so the few times it’s been borrowed I’ve had it returned because people say they can’t use those kind of pens. It’s handy using something nobody else wants.

      1. Princess Sparklepony*

        Love fountain pens. I’m also good with cheap fountain pens as well. But some people just don’t get them. Which is not a bad thing.

    3. RabbitRabbit*

      Alternately, if purple ink isn’t feasible, I’ve found that changing the barrel of the pen can help to make it less appealing to others, such as a bright color that definitely does not scan as ‘standard office supplies.’ Same goes for Sharpies – a pink cap fits just as well on your black Sharpie and makes it less likely to ‘wander off.’

        1. Julia*

          I tried gluing sparkly ribbons to my good pens once to discourage people from taking them. This resulted in people swiping them because they looked neat.

          I now tend to buy pens with green or purple ink so it’s noticeable to everyone when my pen goes missing. Plenty of people do it by accident and the ink color makes sure they know where to return it.

    4. Artemesia*

      The only solution if you don’t use a distinctive color is to lock them up and never let them out of your grip.

    5. anonaccountant*

      Also a pen lover! You can often get metal barrels for your favorite plastic pens (relatively cheaply, too), like the Pentel Energel or the Pilot G2. Personally, I’m an Energel fan, so I bought a Style barrel (although I have an Alloy also) in gold, and just refill that barrel. It means that I just have one pen to keep track of and it’s very distinctive, so no one takes it. Since it’s not a plastic pen, it doesn’t blend in. I store it in a locked drawer (horizontally of course) overnight and it’s within arm’s reach all day – whether it’s at my desk with me or in my padfolio in a meeting.

      Frankly, I dislike others touching my pen at all (I’m very much not into germs, long before covid), so I have a small cup with 4-5 plastic pens from the office that are “guest pens.” If someone asks to borrow a pen, I gesture to the cup. Writing this out, it does sound more than a touch over the top, but it’s been 4 years and I haven’t lost a pen yet!

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        Yes, I was going to suggest this as well–decoy pen cup. I have a cup of pens on my desk, all pens that I don’t care about. I keep the pens I care about in my desk drawer. It works pretty well!

      2. Mr. Shark*

        Yes, I definitely do the “guest pens” thing when I was regularly in the office.
        I had my own pens that I bought, nothing too fancy, but definitely different than your standard office ball-point pen. I had it on my desk one day, and one of my coworkers comes up and starts talking to me, picks it up, sort of plays with it in his hand, and I’m watching him like a hawk.
        Sure enough, he starts walking away with it. No way was I letting him get away with it, so I said, “uh, Mike, you have my pen.” He pretended that it was accidental, but I know it was very much on purpose. That’s when I started with the guest pens cup!

    6. Just Another Techie*

      Another pen lover here! I’ve found that people will blithely walk away with mid-range pens, since they can tell themselves that it’s _possible_ I got the office manager to order the gel pens or whatever for me. But no one has ever tried to touch my $150 Pelikan, because it is so very obviously leagues away from plausibly having been supplied by the employer.

    7. Miette*

      Still another pen lover here–Pilot G2s are my poison. I have two things that helped me keep them from wandering off: First, the lovely Pilot folks annually put out a very colorful assortment of their pens (usually during back to school season), and I use those all the time. This means I’m very often using a pink or pastel blue pen, and they tend to wander less. Second, I found a very cute pencil case for them that was kept in my drawer, and I don’t know that anyone would have been so bold as to seek them out in there.

      I also had a boss in my last full time gig who was just a pen accumulator. This was a completely unconscious thing, she would just pick up the closest pen and to use, then never put it down before she left my office/a meeting. I once looked inside her top desk drawer (for something else–it was with her permission) and the thing was absolutely overflowing with pens. I was like, “Oh ho, this is where all the lost pens go! Do you also have a bunch of socks from people’s clothes dryers around here?” We had a good laugh, but I really do think most pen “thefts” have been accidental, and from that point on I would reclaim what was mine as others have suggested, “Oh, there’s my pen! Did I leave it here during our last meeting?”

    8. GlutenFreePharmacist*

      I love all things office supplies and found that my nice gel pens often went missing when I worked in retail pharmacy. My pens would write nicely on the semi-glossy labels when the store-supplied regular ballpoints weren’t as great. It got to the point where I attached them to a zip reel clipped to my lab coat. Stopped them from walking away and kept them handy to use. Win-win!

  4. Quickbeam*

    Hi….re:#5, I have a hand disability and invested in special pens that were easier to hold. They regularly walked off….other people liked them too. They had a larger plastic barrel so my husband etched/engraved my name into them. That eliminated the problem. They weren’t super expensive but more than the officer would buy for everyone.

    1. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

      I recall that someone suggested bright pink pens, men were less likely at least to walk away with them. And you can also do what one pen absconder did, keep it on your lanyard, it is hard to grab a pen from another person’s neck.

      1. Mongrel*

        Or, if you’re happy with a more common pen, buy the pink one for the outside but use the blue or black refills for the professionalism.

        1. RabbitRabbit*

          I should have scrolled down as I just posted about this above. If you’re in an environment where you need black/dark Sharpies, they are very good for this solution as swapping a pink Sharpie cap onto your black Sharpie renders it very noticeable as well as making it look probably entirely useless from someone else’s POV.

      2. virago*

        A friend who has a house painting business marks her drop cloths with the name of the business, in pink.

        I asked whether that makes them less likely to be taken from job sites.

        She said no, not anymore, but that it does make it easier to recognize and, thus, to reclaim them.

      3. Retired Merchandiser*

        Yep. When I was doing resets a lot of the men would steal my work tools because they wouldn’t use their company tool boxes. (They were bright yellow and to them that looked “too girlie.”) So I went online and bought a set of tools with hot pink handles. (This was before the days you could find them in places like Walmart.) Well, that did the trick. Cut WAY down on the borrowing, and when they did, they couldn’t return them quickly enough!! :-)

          1. Happy meal with extra happy*

            There’s a carpenter YouTuber who makes interesting stuff/videos, but he (unfortunately) tends to lean towards the “I am a masculine man! Blah blah blah..” He was once trying out some kind of seat that had neon green accents, and he called it “a little fem”. My dad and I still joke about random colors being “a little fem”. Ugh.

          2. Adds*

            In my day-gig my boss refused to write or use a pink check from the multicolor checkbook for an account we rarely use (which is why it’s a check from a book you have to handwrite). Then, later in the month, when I wrote the next pink check for a vendor (who happened to be male) and handed it to the boss to sign he went on At Length about how “Oh, Adds wrote this check, you know I would never give you a pink check intentionally and I don’t even know why we have them” as he was giving it to the vendor.

            This is the same boss that spluttered about using the original canary yellow Post-It notes (because they’re too girly) until I explained to him that this was, in fact, the original color and the other ones cost more. So yeah, those people exist and they are very frustrating.

          3. Chief Petty Officer Tabby*

            Because some men think any color that isn’t black, gray, navy, or khaki is “girly”, and their masculinity is so fragile that being seen neat color is going to shatter it.

            It’s so weird and annoying. :D

    2. Keymaster of Gozer*

      There’s a special place in the underdark for people who walk off with other peoples medically required aids. I have fountain pens with a removable grip because of hand issues.

      The engraving the name bit is brilliant though and I’m going to look up if there’s anywhere local that can do it. What a great idea!

    3. Tree*

      I once had my beautiful, blue glass mug, a wedding party gift, go missing at work.
      I ended up emailing the department asking if anyone had seen it. The person who was using it apologized and explained that they had failed to notice my name engraved prominently at the front.

      I guess what I’m saying is that not even engraving your name will stop a vertain brand of office thief.

      I switched to generic dollar store mugs at work after that :/

  5. learnedthehardway*

    OP#4 – you should call people by the name they typically go by at work. If your co-worker goes by Xavier Warblesworth, call him by that name, even if you know his full name is Xavier Joachim Warblesworth-Montmorency-Scott.

    That is – unless you have TWO (or more) Xavier Warblesworths on staff. In that case, figure out with them how they want to be addressed so as to eliminate confusion, and do that.

    I think that your manager over-reacted, but they’re not wrong in expecting you to address people by the names they commonly use. Middle names are somewhat uncommon to use at work. In fact, the trope is that the only time anyone uses your full name is when you’re in trouble with your parents – as in “Xavier Joachim Warblesworth-Montmorency-Scott, you had better not have crashed the car!!!”

    1. Heidi*

      There’s not enough information in the letter to know if this is what happened, but if the coworker’s middle name is one that he dislikes or finds embarassing, then using his middle name on the public intercom may have been perceived as making fun of him.

      1. Jen*

        Yes the whole “but he told us” suggests the poster found his middle name funny.

        I do seem to work with an unusually large number of people who go by their middle names (about 20% in my immediate working group, I’m aware of this people’s legal names are on one system but people have preferred names on their doors and chat feature) but we don’t then also use their first names.

        1. doreen*

          The “he told us” does kind of suggest that the poster found it funny – but the first thing I thought of was a coworker of mine. Whose middle name I know because he used both his first and middle name in anything written , email signature included. It’s not a compound name, it’s actually first and middle. Although he’s the only person I ‘ve known to do this, I’m sure there are others.

      2. Baby Yoda*

        Having your full name called reminds many people of being in trouble as a child. When Mom included your middle name, you knew you were in trouble.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          You’ve put your finger on it.

          I was waiting for the “I only added the middle name because we have two Xavier Warblesworths” part and it never arrived. So it’s more akin to “Xavier Hagrid Warblesworth, who grew up outside Spokane and had a dog named Louie.” Which in some workplaces is “heh heh, bit of good natured whimsy” and in some is “Mark, cut out the aggressive whimsy.”

    2. MsClaw*

      Yeah, I mean I come from a part of the country where it’s not unusual for people to have a first and middle name that are effectively two first names. So, if you paged Bobby Ray Jenkins on the intercom, no one would blink. If you paged Robert Raymond Jenkins, you would sound like his mama calling him in for a scolding.

      Generally speaking, unless someone does the two-first-names thing (your John Patricks and Mary Katherines, or Billy Bobs and Connie Sues) or has the same first-last combo as someone else in the organization, using their middle name is going to seem out of place.

    3. AnonInCanada*

      Okay, now I’m curious. Where did the name “Xavier Warblesworth” come from? Google nets me one instance of this name (this very page) and “Warblesworth” nets three: two of them come from AAM: this one and one from 2017 where the name comes up in a comment. The third is a Reddit comment from 2016.

  6. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

    I recall that someone suggested bright pink pens, men were less likely at least to walk away with them. And you can also do what one pen absconder did, keep it on your lanyard, it is hard to grab a pen from another person’s neck.

  7. MsMurphy*

    #3 had me cringe-chuckle in sympathy. I got a late autism diagnosis in my 30s and that‘s exactly the kind of situation I‘d find myself in at work before – taking people literally, reacting to the words but not the intent, and it left both sides baffled I‘m sure. Even worse, I can think of situations where I asked the „but I don‘t understand“ question and the other person would react curtly. At least now I know why that question might offend!

    1. GythaOgden*

      Fellow autistic here — I struggle with thi! I’ve tried a couple of times to work freelance or start my own micro-business, but getting my head round things like having an individual relationship with the government is very hard! My expertise lies in the theoretical, rather than the practical, which has naturally put a limit on my career. I’m mostly happy being an employee, particularly in the public sector where you’re somewhat insulated from commercial realities, but there are times I wish I could cope with entrepreneurship a bit more and feel like I’m my own boss. And I know the limits are neuro-physical — the pathways in my head that other people seem have no problem with paralyse me when I even think about them.

    2. Cyndi*

      LW3 has me worried, because I thought “I don’t understand, can you explain more please” WAS the tactful response to being told about changes that seemed bad to me at first glance, and now I don’t know what the correct tactic is.

      1. learnedthehardway*

        Maybe a question about how the horrible proposed strategy will deal with X or Y factors that make it unworkable?

      2. Ray Gillette*

        Immediately asking a follow-up question should make it clear to most people that you’re asking out of genuine interest. Very different from a huffy, “I don’t understand why we can’t just [thing that may very well work great, but costs money we don’t have]” followed by an eyeroll.

      3. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

        I suppose there is no such tactic that would guarantee that nobody gets upset. People are different and react differently.

      4. Burger Bob*

        Tone has a lot to do with it. A tone of genuine interest and the addition of, “Could you please explain?” suggests you actually do want to understand and are trying to. A huffy and/or sarcastic, “I don’t understand why we’re doing this!” usually suggests that the person doesn’t like the thing being done, and there could be any variety of reasons for that, but they’re in complaining/resisting mode, not trying-to-understand mode.

      5. Roland*

        Once, sure. But if they explain, you can’t just keep using “but I don’t understand” unless you actually have specific questions about things they didn’t cover, or covered poorly.

      6. Not A Raccoon Keeper*

        I think it depends what you want. If you want more information, “can you help me understand” is probably better framing, to prevent people from putting up defenses. If you want to say “this decision is dumb”, then it’s going to be a little harder to do tactfully. If you are trying to impact their decision, then maybe “hmm, seems like there are some risks to this approach, want to hear my thoughts?” might open a helpful and neutral conversation. If you are not trying to get them to change the decision, then either a) zip it (why bother?), or b), give a polite “hmm, okay” and then think to yourself ‘not my circus!’ and move on.

    1. Joanne’s Daughter*

      Ha! That’s exactly where my mind went when I read that letter! One of the best KITH skits!

  8. Keymaster of Gozer*

    1: I completely understand the urge to set people straight when they’re spreading untruths and stirring things up. And I’ve been the one doing the spreading drama thing (long story but my early 20s were an absolute trash fire. I was a bad person) so sometimes it’s tempting to try and steer others away from that pit.

    However, Alison has it absolutely right. The best solution at work is more often than not to be the consummate professional and ignore their attempts to drag others into it. Drama doesn’t survive well without an appreciative audience.

    Block her, and him frankly, on social media and just act like nothings wrong at all. This has the added benefit that if they escalate in order to try and get a reaction they look like utter jerks and you’re completely clean of any of it.

  9. Lee*

    I have one pen. It amazes me how I now never have to go looking for one as I only have one. I’ve made my team very aware and it is a distinctive fountain pen. Elimination of choice has actually been rather liberating.

    Contrast with my wife who collects pens, yet consantly is unable to find the one she wants…

    1. Mim*

      What kind of magic is this? For me fountain pens were a gateway into So Many Pens All The Time. Because pretty pens, different nib sizes and feels, different inks — so many possibilities. I open my case in the morning and decide what color day it feels like. And whether it’s a bold nib/big handwriting day or a fine nib/delicate handwriting day. Often it’s both.

      I am envious of your ability to commit to one pen at a time. On top of my FPs, I always have a ballpoint on hand for when I need something waterproof. Because there is obviously no way I am keeping up with the cleaning/maintenance required when using waterproof ink in fountain pens when I have so many pens in rotation. I suppose if I stuck with just one, that wouldn’t be an issue. *sigh*

  10. Rumpole's Old Bailey*

    The bottom drawer of my filing cabinet is full of my fountain pens and ink bottles. As I don’t work with anyone who know how to use one I’m good.
    I also have a collection of very nice gel pens for when a client needs to sign a document. It is well known that they are my special pens and woe betide anyone who nicks one. I will tell them to hand it back.

    1. Wintermute*

      This is a great solution, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be a fountain pen either. The problem is that Gel pens register well below what most people think of as “theft”, even if yes, it’s technically stealing. Even spending 25 bucks on a pen puts you into that realm where people are not going to see it as disposable, fungible property and see it as an article of equipment you own.

      It also brings it up into the realm where you can reasonably expect a boss to act if something that expensive goes missing. I wouldn’t expect a boss to consider discipline if someone took a gel pen that’s five bucks for three of them, but I would expect a 30-dollar brass cartridge pen to be treated as an actual theft, or closer to it.

      1. GythaOgden*

        Hah. In my case, I had a bad evening and I somehow arrive home without something really important, like my wallet or ID badge. I have finally learned to zip up my handbag, but the damage has been done. I’ll stick with the cheap pens! YMM definitely V, but for me that’s just a liability.

        (Although Amazon has good deals on good pens. £5 buys you twenty good clicky ballpoint pens from a company called Zebra – two packs. I keep an eye out primarily because we’re operating on the usual public sector shoestring and if we do get any stationery it’s rubbish. I buy one pack for myself at home and take one into work, then split the packet between me and my co-receptionist.)

  11. Forgot my name again*

    #5 – My work buys a style of pens that I don’t like, so I bought myself a box of 24 biros of the kind that I like to write with. I genuinely didn’t think – even with them being “permanently borrowed” – that I’d be approaching the end of the box within two years, but boy, do they like to walk! I’m (mildly) embarrassed to admit that I have gone to a colleague’s office to ask for my pen back once, but they know I’m autistic and we just had a giggle about me being funny about pens before I reclaimed it and all was right with the world once more.
    Long story short? Buy in bulk (or spares at least), don’t be afraid to ask for them back, label them if you have to. And always keep one in your bag/purse for emergencies.

  12. Forrest*

    Oh, I have a DISSERTATION on LW3.

    I have been managing a team for a year which is going through some industry-standard but also excruciatingly slow change– think moving from a 1-1 llama therapy programme targeted based on llama self-referral to a broader agenda of llama wellbeing being embedded at every stage from llama birth to death– and I’ve been hearing “i don’t understand why we’re doing X” a LOT. It means all of these things:

    – I hate the broader strategic direction
    – I don’t understand the broader strategic direction
    – strategic direction this, strategic direction that, you guys do what you want, I’ll be over here quietly doing the old thing because I like it better
    – I understand the broader strategic direction, but I don’t understand how this fits in to it
    – I thought I understood the broader strategic direction, but I don’t get how this fits into it? Maybe I don’t understand it after all? Oh, now I’m confused again, God I hate this. Can nothing change ever, please.
    – I actively like the broader strategic direction, but I don’t understand how this fits into it
    – I like the broader strategic direction, I understand how this fits into it, I just hate having to learn new things because I’m busy and it takes ages and I get behind and that’s super stressful
    – I like the new strategic direction, I understand how this fits into it, I’m on board with it all but I just like to process new stuff out loud and that sounds like criticism
    – I like the new strategic direction, I understand how this fits into it, to be honest I’m positive about the whole thing, but everyone else is moaning and I don’t like to stand out
    – I like the new strategic direction, why is it taking SO LONG to get there, can we not just get on with it, this snail’s pace is so damn frustrating
    – I like the new strategic direction, I understand how this fits into it, I’m positive about the whole thing, I just REALLY hate Microsoft Camelid, could we do this on literally anything except Microsoft Camelid
    (this one is the one I have the most sympathy for, Microsoft Camelid complete sucks.)

    The really fascinating thing of the last year has been going from seeing two dozen people “who all hate change, hate the new strategic direction and won’t stop moaning” (how things were represented to me when I started) to understanding that there’s a whole bunch of different reactions going on there when you start looking.

    And some of them are *extremely* fixable– I now know who are the people who are actually on board with the whole thing but don’t want to stick their heads above the parapet and say, “hey, I think management has a point here”; who are the people who are on board with the whole thing but just need some extra time/training to get the specifics; who are the people who are basically on board but who don’t feel they’ve participated in the process unless they’ve critiqued something; and who are the genuine holdouts who hate everything and just want to go back to 2015.

    What I also think is really important is that they know each other now– the 2015 holdouts seemed like the dominant voice a year ago, and I think they really believed they were speaking for the majority because they were all saying similar things. Having got in and listened, we now know that there’s only 2-3 of them (and even they are not as hardcore as they thought), and it’s much easier to go, “Yup, that’s Carol, everyone else is OK with it”.

    In terms of advice, I would say– don’t use group settings as your only way of imparting new information. They have a place, but you really notice how group identity takes over and everyone nods along to Carol’s criticism, and you feel like you have 24 people who hate you and everything you stand for, when actually you have 24 individuals who are different places along a scale. Some of the things we’ve done:

    – managers always follow up training / announcements in 1-1s, so you get the much more nuanced versions and find out who hates everything and who is basically fine but just needs a bit more explanation, and can explain the specific bits that individual is struggling with
    – managers report back to each other how those conversations went, so whenever we are in front of 24 hostile faces we know that actually 80% have said they’re cool with it and think we’re going in the right direction
    – some really targeted and specific surveys asking what people understand, what is taking extra time, which specific bits do/don’t work, with a bit of free text space for people to put their moans in but with a bigger focus on more actionable / quantitative feedback
    – feeding back to the group on feedback, so the bigger group knows that they’re not all united in opposition

    It’s a long old road! But we’re a lot further on than we were two years ago.

    1. wordswords*

      This is such a great summation of the range of possible underlying reactions here, and how to think about them!

  13. Anon Re pens*

    The best solution to pen theft I have seen: At my former workplace, a coworker taped a label to her pen, reading “Stop, Thief!” That pen was still on her desk when she retired, and later when I retired. It was dry by then, though.

  14. slashgirl*

    Do what I and one of the secretaries I work with do, wrt pens (as we both love pens and have our faves)-don’t let anyone else use them. She has a desk organizer in which she keeps the inexpensive bought for work pens, so if someone borrows one of those and walks off, no biggie. I keep a couple inexpensive pens at my desks as well and will hand those to people who ask to borrow one and again, if they take off with it, that’s okay, I just get another from the supply closet.

    1. IndustriousLabRat*

      I’ve also got a desk organizer [old cracked beaker] full of “decoy” pens… cheap ones from the supply cabinet, but mostly the low-quality pens that vendors give out as swag, but write horribly. I figure that eventually my colleagues will tire of taking a pen, only to find that it skips, or is dry, or has some other failing. The good ones live behind my computer monitor mostly out of sight, and one is always stuck up the side of my baseball cap. I’m super partial to one specific model of PaperMate retractable ballpoint that has a comfy triangular profile but no hand grip, making it ideal for keeping in my hat without snagging my hair! If I find one of them elsewhere in the shop, I know where it came from :)

      1. WillowSunstar*

        Back in the days before COVID, I had a cubicle and could keep pens and other stuff in a drawer that locked. Now it’s open office plan and hot desking, so I keep my pens in my purse.

      2. Adds*

        I do this too. I have nice gel pens in colors, because that also keeps them from walking off (because my boss will *refuse* to use pink or turquoise or purple pens) for myself. They stay on my side of the desk, out of reach. Then I have a couple of pen cups with the cheap Bic pens and sample logo pens that the mail-order promotional products places to you after you buy once trying to get you to buy again to hand to people who need to borrow a pen.

  15. Hound Dog (Nothing But)*

    I’m a pen-chewer (I know, I know), which really solves the issue if people taking my pens. It also keeps me from taking other people’s pens, since I’m not about to chew on someone else’s plastic. So, you could always try gently knawing on the top on the top of a pen in a meeting.

  16. I should really pick a name*

    #1 seems like a case where disconnecting from the person’s social media is the answer.

    For #4, I don’t understand why someone would include someone’s middle name when paging them unless there were multiple people with that name.

    1. The Eye of Argon*

      For #4, I agree with Alison that they were probably horsing around, either in a fake Mom-type “Stanley Thaddeus Wojciehowicz, you’re in trouble now” manner, or else the paged person had a middle name his coworkers thought was funny and were using it to tease him. Both very unprofessional.

    2. Salad Daisy*

      #4 I worked at a company where there was another person with my first and last name and we always used our middle names. It still did not mean there were occasional mix ups, but it helped.

  17. Asenath*

    My immediate response to someone saying “I don’t understand why we’re doing X” is actually neither an instinctive digging-in-of-the-heels in response to change nor a genuine request for information. I assume it means “I don’t understand why we’re doing X, but I expect it’s because Very Senior Official has had yet another really bright idea based on a complete lack of knowledge of what we actually do.” But possibly not all work-places have such very senior officials.

    1. Curmudgeon in California*

      I’ve seen a lot of stupid stuff done because “… Very Senior Official has had yet another really bright idea based on a complete lack of knowledge of what we actually do.” Those are the changes that irk me the most.

    2. Chief Petty Officer Tabby*

      My dog daycare job had one of those — the owner. It was very, very stressful, and the turnover is amazing. By the time I left, I was basically managing 2 new managers, and keeping a 3rd from having daily panic attacks by the skin of my teeth.

      I was… not upset that I got fired. Because I was planning to quit after getting myself set up on Wag and Rover — it happens that I was fired first, but you know what?

      I’m happy it happened the way it did. I don’t have to deal qith the nonsense I am hearing about, and I’m realizing my physical health is probably fast approaching “you are legally disabled”, anyway, do I can’t work like I used to, anyway.

  18. Empress Ki*

    #2 Nothing to add to what Alison said. Just wanted to say I feel quite emotional just reading that. My eyes are wet. Your reaction is perfectly understandable.

  19. The Eye of Argon*

    I work with the public and can’t take credit cards (municipal government – meet the Flintstones) so I have to deal with a lot of check writers still. Regular ballpoints vanish into thin air so I dealt with the problem by using the most obnoxious novelty pens I can find: fluorescent pink with a giant pompom on top, little witch’s brooms, ones topped with giant fake diamonds, bunny heads, etc. Currently using a sparkly red one with a miniature Christmas tree on top.

    Deliberate pen stealers don’t want to swipe something so silly/obvious, and the absentminded are far less likely to chuck it in their purse or pocket without realizing.

    1. NerdyPrettyThings*

      My bank does this. I understand why this works, but I really hate it when I go into my bank and forget to bring in my own pen. The adornments always make theirs so top-heavy that it throws off my handwriting.

      1. WishIWasATimeTraveller*

        In Australia the banks chain the pens to the counter. Not sure who first decided that was a good idea, but it works!

        1. Hannah Lee*

          My local post office in the US does this as well. The pens stay attached, and don’t disappear. The problem is that whoever manages the place doesn’t, or can’t, get replacement ink for them, so often all the pens on on the counters are empty. But customers like me coming in needing to fill out a form don’t know that, so you wander from counter to counter looking for a working pen. Now that I know that, I just bring my own.

          At work, I bring my own pens and pencils … the person who orders office supplies will always go for the lowest price items, which rarely write well, it’s worth it for me to spend $15-20 a year to have writing implements that aren’t aggravating. But I keep them in my drawer, and have a cup on my desk with maybe one of each, but also any number of free supplier provided swag pens. I’ll occasionally lose a pen, but not so often that it’s a hassle.

    2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      When I was a receptionist I taped big silk flowers to all my pens. Light enough to not throw off the balance, but definitely not something someone’s going to walk off with unawares.

    3. Chief Petty Officer Tabby*

      Loool! I’d steal all of those — actually, I’d probably just ask where you got them so I could order them, because those are awesome.

  20. hbc*

    OP3: I don’t like to assume anything has subtext, because then you’re in the same boat with people who genuinely want an explanation and are wondering why you’re telling them to just accept the change. So I’ll say something like, “Is it that you don’t understand how this will make things faster, or that you don’t believe it will actually make things faster, or that there’s some other negative impact that makes it not worth the speed increase?” It doesn’t make the knee-jerk change-resisters any happier in the long run, but helping others suss out if there’s an actual problem is always a good thing.

    At minimum, there are usually quiet coworkers who will listen to you patiently trying to figure out if they have a point beyond general pessimism, and they will both 1) buy into the change more if no problem is found and 2) be more comfortable raising issues when you’ve shown you care enough to try to understand the objection.

  21. Lexie*

    As a former foster care worker I am absolutely outraged at OP2’s foster experience. Both the fact that they were moved so many times and that none of those people did anything to celebrate their birthday.
    I’m so sorry this was your foster experience, it should have been better than that.

    1. Irish Teacher*

      Yeah, I was just horrified that foster carers who are meant to be giving children a better life couldn’t even be bothered buying a card and cake and wishing happy birthday.

      And while I know the LW is unlikely to see this, I suspect that the colleagues are likely to be touched and/or sympathetic, even if they don’t know the LW’s background. If a colleague started crying when given a birthday celebration, my assumption would be that they were really touched. I definitely wouldn’t think them unbalanced. I would just think they were really surprised and grateful.

      If the LW is a young person and new to the workplace, I might just think they were really touched to be made feel a part of the group.

  22. Wintermute*

    My recommendation for pen theft is slightly nicer pens. If you can afford the one-time expense (with potential longterm savings) and aren’t prone to losing things, a 25-35 dollar pen is a lot less likely to wander off, and you have more options to recover it if it does.

    The problem is that gel pens still read in many people’s mind as a common office supply, they may not even know you don’t get supplied them, even if they probably would if they sat down and thought about it they probably aren’t thinking that deeply. As a result it just doesn’t code as “theft” in their minds, even if it is.

    Something that’s obviously nicer and somewhat expensive doesn’t do that, and if something that expensive goes missing it’s more reasonable to expect cooperation in attempting to recover it and/or punishment of the thief than something worth two or three dollars.

  23. Erin*

    I remember getting all teary with the birthday cake letter, and, welp, it happened again today! Thank you for sharing your story. Also, you deserve lots more birthday cakes!

  24. Kristina*

    I don’t get the paging thing being a joke. How else would you page someone? It’s not like OP said “Luke I am your father” or paged “Seymour butts.” They paged the actual person?

    1. I should really pick a name*

      Firstname Lastname

      It’s not uncommon for people to be sensitive about their middle names.

    2. I am Emily's failing memory*

      The joke was either imitating a stern parent using the full name of a child who’s in trouble, or it was intended to tease the person about their middle name.

    3. Be Gneiss*

      I think the key part is that LW says “the reason we knew his middle name is because he told us” vs. the coworker saying they prefer to go by First Middle Last at work.
      Charles Wallace Murry prefers Charles Wallace. But for a coworker whose middle name you just happen to know…using all 3 names to page comes across as mocking, or a chiding “mom used your middle name – you’re in trouble!”

    4. Dr. Rebecca*

      If you have one Luke, you can page “Luke to the front, please.” If you have two Lukes with different last names, you can page “Luke Skywalker to the front, please.” If you have two Lukes with the same last name, or more than two Lukes, using the middle name for distinguishing between them would be useful: “Luke Amidala Skywalker to the front, please.”

      But if anyone just used a middle name out of the blue, it does have the connotation of chiding a naughty child, being overly formal for laughs, or implying the person is a serial killer (see the three name news phenomenon of serial killers…)

      1. Person from the Resume*

        I was also thinking it’s very likely that if you have only one Dave employed there you only us their fist name when paging.

        1. Hannah Lee*

          Though in my company, we page using both the first and last names, even though there’s only on pair of duplicate first names.

          Why? Usually just the first name didn’t register if someone was focused on something. So “Luke, please call extension 3” goes unanswered.

          But if we use the whole name, it gets their attention, so something like “Luke Skywalker, please call extension 3. Luke, please call extension 3” as all one page works.

    5. Person from the Resume*

      What everyone else said!

      In this case, I feel like the lack of information in the letter about *why* the LW chose to use the full name including middle name for this one coworker is quite telling. The LW knew they were fooling around, and wrote to Alison with a telling lack of information hoping to hear the manager was out line to repremand him. I believe at the bare minimum it was an in-group joke that the customers may not notice (parents using the full name because their child is in trouble).

      1. ecnaseener*

        I agree, this read as “It’s a silly rule to ban middle names, right? And I can do whatever I want as long as it’s not explicitly banned, right?”

        Could be wrong, they might have not meant anything by it and genuinely not understood the problem – but then why didn’t they say “I didn’t mean anything by it but my manager seemed to think I was making fun”

    6. Artemesia*

      Nah use of the middle name means he was ridiculing the person; NO ONE calls people by all three names on the intercom unless the person commonly goes by that handle or they are teasing them.

    7. Zorak*

      Almost certainly they said the first, middle, and last names since they were paging someone, in order to imitate a parent when a child is in trouble. The whole “but they told me their middle name so it should be fine” tactic is a weak attempt at deflection.

      I can see how in a box store or something, this would seem like a light hearted mild humor, but you can understand why the boss doesn’t want customers hearing employees be silly over the pager.

    8. Elitist Semicolon*

      There was a car dealership about 200 yards behind the apartment I grew up in and apparently they had some staff who both worked late and had a penchant for off-color shenanigans because one night I was getting ready for bed and heard, over their PA system, “Bill Jones has no penis, Bill Jones has no penis.”

  25. Amanda*

    Re: The Birthday Cake Letter – I SO VIVIDLY remember the day this was posted. I logged into AAM for my regular lunchtime eatting/AAM perusal sesh and saw the letter. I also noticed something like 500 comments and thought that was so strange (like, really, we’re talking about a birthday cake people, what’s to comment about?) Then I started reading the comments and was crying all the way through. If I had a few hours I could start them all again now and would be tearing up in no time. OP – whereever you are – I truly hope you’ve experienced several more years of birthday cakes, songs, and love since then.

    1. The Buddhist Viking*

      I have never wanted an update to a letter more than I want this one. I hope someday OP will write back and that all is going well for her.

  26. Troublemaker*

    #3 (and also Alison!): You may be interested in “Chesterton’s fence”, one of many possible names for the pattern you’re seeing. It’s simple: businesses have massive inertia in their current production process; production is based upon repeatable actions with predictable outcomes; and thus, process changes are the most common source of production failures. (This is simplified for many businesses, but it’s also 100% true for e.g. software or manufacturing.) So, before making *any* change to *any* process, we should understand why the current process does things in its current fashion, and we should plan our disruptive rollout carefully.

    The sad fact is that the typical manager does not understand the process which they oversee. As a result, when they ask for changes to the process, they do not see Chesterton’s fences; they do not see why the change might be disruptive, harmful, unuseful, etc. This is exacerbated by the typical reasons for such changes: sales, compliance with regulations, director ego, etc. instead of productivity improvements or easier labor.

    1. Lora*

      Oh, I love that you brought this up! Chesterton’s Fence is such a great thinking process.

      I also wish people who want to change things would read more of John Kotter’s work on change management – there are SO MANY things that need to happen for a change to occur, including firing people who won’t get on board no matter how politically powerful or high up they are, which organizations mostly aren’t willing to do. And the bottom line is, if you’re not willing to do all these things, which include often a culture change from the top down, then the change isn’t going to happen and there’s not much point in trying. So large changes need to be both rare and have near-unanimous support, with money and people both committed to it happening.

      That’s one of the reasons I was very skeptical about a lot of the DEI initiatives that came out over the past couple of years. It takes real money and being willing to fire very senior leadership who won’t get on board or is the source of the issue, as all major changes do. I’ve never seen either happen without a class action lawsuit or some huge expensive legal fines to prompt it – otherwise you mostly get the Motivational Poster type of “change”, where they change out the motivational posters from (buzzword du jour) to (new change words) and it’s a light marketing effort with all the thought and budget of the company holiday party invested in it.

    2. azvlr*

      Thanks for teaching me a new concept. I’m going to share this with my son who just graduated as a Human Systems Engineer. I think this concept will be right up his alley.

  27. learnedthehardway*

    OP#1 should definitely take the high road – ignore the ex and the “other woman”, block them both on social media, and get on with living her best professional and personal life.

    A) it’s the most professional thing to do. Addressing the ridiculous co-worker over the issue is only going to create drama. B) There’s nothing quite so satisfying as denying someone who wants drama the opportunity to create any.

  28. New Jack Karyn*

    LW1: It looks like the only issue you have with her is on social media. You don’t say that she’s acting weird in the workplace. So unfriend/unfollow her on social media. She can be weird on her own time. Problem solved!

    I never connect with current coworkers on social media. Mostly because I try to stay even-keeled at work (I didn’t always), and on FB I rant about politics, discuss my mental illness, whine about my dating life, etc. Nobody at work needs to see that messy side of me.

  29. BatManDan*

    MacKenzie, whose business it is to CREATE change, says that 70% of organizational change efforts fail. Quite a bit of research has been done on HOW to make these things work, but most of it is trapped in textbooks. The Xchange Approach has been moving these techniques OUT of textbooks and INTO business for the last 7 or 8 years. I’ve learned a ton from their programs.

  30. Fluffy Fish*

    Oh # 3. In my 20+ years of government, change management goes something like this.

    Them:”You must be super positive and really champion this change”
    Us: “We have concerns about how this will affect our processes and you haven’t asked us for any input”
    Them:” “Just trust us, we know best”
    Us: “No really, we need to talk about this”
    Them: “You’re not being positive”

    And cue the months of fixing broken processes after implementation is “complete”.

    A lot of times when people say they don’t understand why something is being done is because (1) no one has bothered to ask if what they do will be affected by the change and (2) it’s yet another in a series of forced changes that have negative consequences for some users, while management doesn’t seem to care.

  31. Dragon*

    OP4: A past employer included the middle initial when paging either of two employees whose names sounded alike. Practically, it was usually Nicholas Smith being paged because Nicolas Smith didn’t have callers looking for him.

  32. Sunflower*

    My workplace is pretty good about pens NOT walking away, but I like novelty pens anyway (think Disney characters, Hello Kitty, etc). The only time I had my pen stolen was when a person from another office came for training and used my desk while I was away from the office for the week. I’m still mad about that because it was a pen that came with a calendar and not a normal pen you can just buy anywhere.

  33. Bird*

    As a woman, if someone used my full name on an intercom at a job that would open me up to stalking and danger. It’s probably policy not to disclose that kind of information to customers?

      1. Loulou*

        I mean, you obviously think this is a joke, but there are a TON of reasons not to use people’s full name on an intercom in a public workplace. Think about it for about thirty seconds and I bet you can think of some.

  34. Veryanon*

    Pens: I too have a preference for a certain type of pen, that I pay for myself. Other people will steal them if they can, so I keep mine in my purse/bag or put away in my desk. That seems to prevent most of them from not walking away.

  35. DannyG*

    This touches on # 2 & 4: had a girl who we fostered from 6th grade through HS. We finally got her dog which had been passed back and forth between her parents and other family members. The dog was “Lady Ann___.” We asked her why the dog had a middle name. She replied “How else would she know if you were mad at her if you didn’t use all 3 names!”

    1. Princess Sparklepony*

      AKA her government name! That is what’s used when you are in trouble. So cute that the dog had one as well.

  36. ZK*

    I’m a pen addict. I used to work in a big box office supply store and pretty much had my choice of pens. So I found one brand I really liked and purchased some for myself. They started to walk off from my desk. I finally labeled them all with my name and if asked, I said that I was bad about putting them down somewhere and this way I might be able to find them again, or someone would let me know when they found one. I’ve continued to do that everywhere I have worked and for the most part, it works. But I make sure that co-workers see it as my issue, not that I think someone might steal my pens, haha.

  37. azvlr*

    When I was on active duty, I came up with a great solution for keeping my pen around.
    A bit of background: In the Navy, we were required to use black ink to fill out forms, log books, etc. Each officer in the approval used a unique pen color. I think blue was for the department head, green was for the Executive Officer, and only place red was ever used was for the Commanding Officer’s signature.
    I worked in Admin and my desk was right near the conference room where the department heads would meet with the CO and XO every morning. If I was away from my desk when they came in, some of the officers would make themselves at home at me desk, doodling on my pristine desk calendar and “borrowing” my pens. Infuriating, since we had good pens, and younger me didn’t feel like I had any standing to ask them not to take them.
    I finally put the black ink tube inside of the red pen case. I kept that pen until I got out of the Navy several months later. This also solved the calendar doodling, since they didn’t want to use a red pen for that.

  38. Curious*

    Glad I read the response to LW3. I work with some people (not me!) who say they don’t understand pretty often, as in the letter. However, if you do explain, they at least move on to either accepting the reasoning or challenging specific parts of the reasoning rather than continuing to claim to not understand. However, I see that some people implementing change don’t see the lack of understanding as an opportunity to explain, but just something to overcome in another way (cajoling, ignoring, etc.). They are probably assuming things will go like in the letter, and possibly have experienced that first-hand before.

  39. curmudgeon*

    LW 5: I found that being rabidly territorial (but also friendly) helps deter pen thieves. If I caught someone with my pen & had a good enough rapport, I’d shout THIEF! in a joking way and take it back.

    YMMV of course. My last place was pretty laid back and people were good sports. Now I’m lucky enough to have my own office/people don’t really need a pen on the fly so my colorful pen collection is safe.

  40. Event Coordinator?*

    I remember the pen story well – the comments taught me about “decoy” pens and I’ve had a cup of decoys ever since. My sharpie S – Gels are staying in my hands and my hands only.

  41. Cinderblock*

    I used to have problems with people stealing my pens.

    In one office that was mostly older men, I hid mine in a desk drawer under a few tampons, so the guys were afraid to go anywhere near it.

    In my current office, I brought in some cheap-ish but decent fountain pens with odd colored inks that no one else wants to use.

  42. Bob*

    Definitely tell them why you cried over cake. It’s a sweet story and also, of you just say “I had an emotional day and cried so bad I had to leave” they will be on eggshells around you forever.

  43. Dust Bunny*

    Re: Other Woman

    She’s only the other woman if he’s also dating someone else. If you were that someone else, then she’s just . . . the woman.

    I agree that you should stick with impeccable professionalism so don’t do this, but I’d be sorely tempted to spoil her illicit fun by pointing out that she’s not actually the other woman any more.

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